Today I read a comment on a video on Social Media site saying how what I do is “not new” and in a way the lady is right. But, the comment did make me think – probably as I was the one demoing how to use a sling in the video she commented on. Babywearing/carrying our young – call it what you will – is a millennia old practise. For as long as we have needed to move, we have needed to carry our young. Without the ability to carry our young we would not have developed as the highly successful species we are today; we simply could not have moved at the speed required (T. Taylor – The Artificial Ape).
What is different now, is that the skills of carrying our young are not passed down from generation to generation as they once were. The Industrial Revolution and the move to the towns in the 1800s and the outbreak of World War I and World War II required women to be in the work place more. This shift in social position led to an increase in the world of nurseries, and a decrease in breastfeeding and carrying of our children, and thus the loss of skills once common place.
When I began carrying Henry in 2010 there was no local support available. Google, YouTube and Facebook became my teachers and led me to sources of help. The nearest ‘in person’ support I could get was a 90-minute drive away; not something I wanted to do with a new baby. The support I gained from likeminded parents was invaluable in the early days and until around 2010 there was very little professionalisation of the industry. The launch of the Consortium of Sling Manufacturers and Retailers and the TICKS guidelines for safe babywearing in 2010 were some of the first steps towards professionalisation.
Early pioneers of babywearing in the UK had started to train as consultants and there were courses organised from Clauwi and Trageschule Dresden in the late 2000s. I was lucky that many of these women were also members of the Natural Mamas forum. They inspired me and they still do. The birth of the School of Babywearing in late 2010 and Trageschule UK in early 2011 brought increase access, flexibility and training opportunities to the UK. Until then, courses had to be specifically arranged with European training schools.
At the same time as increased training opportunities, there was a massive growth in ‘in person’ peer support through the foundation of many of the biggest sling libraries in the UK. The West Yorkshire Sling Library, the South London Sling Library, South East Slings (formerly Eastbourne Sling Library) and myself were all founded in late 2010 or 2011. In many cases, sling libraries formed out of existing ‘sling meets’ or from LLL lending libraries etc. NESL was founded as there was simply nothing here and I saw a need and wanted to help. The increase in training opportunities and a growing public knowledge of the existence of sling libraries led to a massive growth from late 2011 onwards. Until 2011 there were just 20 sling libraries in the UK. This amazing timeline from South East Slings (accurate up to 2015) shows just what a transformation happened.
The hardest part for me was to ask for payment for my services. When I first started NESL I did not have any training but the hire fees I took (£5 for 2 weeks when I first began) went to buy stock, website and URL, refreshments and advertising materials. Eventually, there was sufficient money in the pot to fund my first training course in March 2012. Since then, I have gone onto to complete 3 more training courses and have invested thousands in stock, insurance, websites and promotional materials. The more I invested, the less I could allow the sling library to be a hobby.
There are times when people question why I charge. But without charging I could not exist. I could not buy stock or replacement stock. I could not pay to travel to CPD or for extra training, I couldn’t pay for insurance etc. Yes, I enjoy helping families and seeing their faces when they find a carrier that works for them brings joy to my heart. But, if I didn’t charge I would be undermining the work I have done and devalue the services of myself and the other consultants in the UK. We are in an world where help is often sought out by parents. I did. Doulas, feeding specialists, Lactation Consultants, Hypnobirthing teachers, Baby Massage instructors etc. all charge.
Babywearing Consultants are therefore no different. One day I hope that the work I do, will be as valued as that of other professionals working with families. Professionalisation of the baby-carrying industry has led to increased standards; those who provide a bad service won’t survive. Professionalisation has led to safety standards which keep babies safe. Professionalisation has led to the TICKS guidelines; now widely accepted as ‘best practise’. Professionalisation means ease of access and local support. The industry may be a new one but it is an ever changing, ever growing one and something I am immensely proud to be a part of .